The health benefits of listening to music


Mis à jour le 3 September 2020.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because we share a passion for music. Music is an incredibly vast subject and concept, so we won’t try to define what it is, but rather what it provides.

Many different studies have shown that music promotes well-being for all living things, from humans to animals and even plants! For example, the physicist Joël Sternheimer has discovered and patented a technique called genodics. This concept involves the transmission of sound frequencies identified by living organisms and intended for plant cultivation. It is based on the central premise that certain melodies influence the development of plant proteins by either accelerating or inhibiting their growth. Similarly, the diffusion of “protein melodies” in farms can increase lactation in cows.

If such effects can be produced with animals and plants, what benefits can music have for us?

Music, motivation and concentration

For a lot of people, listening to music while performing certain tasks, whether physical or mental, is almost a necessity.

To motivate ourselves, we often use music, rhythmic for physical activities and calm for concentration. But how does one explain this phenomenon? According to Isabelle Peretz, a professor of psychology specializing in music cognition, “listening to music you really enjoy, enough to get goosebumps, releases dopamine into the brain and what is known as the reward circuit.”

In a nutshell, music is like a doping substance without any of the harmful side-effects of drugs or even chocolate! So, it’s good for you to listen to music without moderation!

Music is good for the soul

When scrolling through the internet and your favorite radios or online music services, you’ve probably noticed that there seems to be a playlist for every mood imaginable. No need to do any research to support this thesis: for some people, music has the power to influence or amplify their mood. So if you’re not feeling great, a “good mood”, “road trip” or “sunny day” playlist will probably help lift your spirits.

Unless, as demonstrated by a study by music cognition professor Isabelle Peretz, researchers Elvira Brattico and Mari Tervaniemi from the University of Helsinki, and neuropsychologist Patricia Moreau, you are part of the very small percentage of the population (estimated at around 4%) that suffers from amusia, a musical disorder that makes it difficult to appreciate and produce music despite great effort.

Music, relaxation and sleep

The expression “Each to their own” applies to music in every sense. These personal preferences strongly influence the sounds and music that soothe us and help us get to sleep. Consequently, some people need complete silence to sleep, while others listen to calm music or reassuring noises such as the sound of a river flower or birdsong.

But how can we forget the A.S.M.R trend that began on YouTube in 2008?

The example of A.S.M.R

A.S.M.R stands for “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Contrary to what is said, you don’t watch A.S.M.R, you feel it (or not, depending on the person). This expression describes the pleasant sensations generated by what you see or hear on the screen. Some describe it as “a tingling sensation that goes from the scalp down to the spine”, while others go so far as to speak of a “cerebral orgasm” and some people only feel tension. Although the scientific community hasn’t yet proven the effectiveness of these videos, the number of fans is continually increasing, along with the number of A.S.M.R creators on YouTube. You don’t have to have a degree to “do A.S.M.R” and this is reflected in the figures: in late 2019, there were more than 13 million A.S.M.R videos on YouTube, some of which have several thousand or several million views. In any case, many people say that they find it easier to sleep or at least feel more relaxed thanks to these whispers and other noises, as long as they are slow and soft.

If A.S.M.R doesn’t have any scientific basis for the moment, this is not the case for music therapy, a subject that we will discuss below.

Does music have a therapeutic effect?

“Music has never healed anyone.”

François-Xavier Vrait

Although music therapists like François-Xavier Vrait, director of the Institute of Music Therapy of Nantes and pedagogical coordinator at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Nantes, agree that “music has never healed anyone”, it is still beneficial for patients who receive this therapy.

To properly understand the concept of music therapy, professor of neuropsychology at the University of Caen Hervé Platel explains that “Simply exposing a subject to music is not music therapy. Music therapy refers to the practice of health care in a therapeutic context, with the intervention of a qualified person: a music therapist. There are three important factors: the patient’s background and the particularities of their condition, the characteristics of the chosen music and the relationship with the therapist.”

Music therapy is divided into two branches: “receptive” music therapy, which involves making the patient listen to audio samples, and “active” music therapy that consists in inviting the patient to use various instruments, their body and their voice to produce music.

As we pointed out earlier, music therapy cannot cure someone, but it does have the ability to calm the patient, channel and reduce anxiety, and even influence cerebral plasticity and, consequently, the patient’s learning and relearning abilities. Therefore, music therapy can be useful when used in conjunction with medical treatments, but it can also help people with autism and those suffering from Alzheimer’s, for example.

The example of Alzheimer’s disease

We have all probably experienced listening to a song or a piece of music that brings back memories. This phenomenon has also been observed in subjects with Alzheimer’s disease during a study conducted by researchers at McGill University in Montreal. It has been proven that music therapy can have significant cognitive impact on people suffering from the disease, allowing them to bring back forgotten memories, as well as reducing anxiety and agitation. Therefore, although music therapy isn’t a substitute for medical treatment, it can improve the quality of life of those suffering from this disease.

The power of music goes even further: an experiment carried out in a retirement home in Caen demonstrated through musical workshops that people suffering from Alzheimer’s, even at an advanced stage, still have the ability to learn.

However, Hervé Platel advises caution: “With neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, music therapy will indeed delay the effects of the disease, but it has no impact on recovery, the progression of the disease is inevitable. However, only music therapy succeeds in activating the memory’s residual faculties: while the patients seem to have lost the ability to remember, they manage to remember new melodies and are able to reproduce them, but cannot memorize the words.”

A little bit of hope thanks to a few notes!

And in practice?

While listening to music and having a somewhat passive approach can work wonders, singing or playing an instrument can greatly improve cognitive development, especially in children as their cerebral plasticity is usually high. Playing music requires and reinforces a multitude of different skills. These include improved reading, better pronunciation and memory.

However, you’re never too old to start learning how to play an instrument. It will only increase your sense of well-being while exercising your memory and patience.

Music is an important part of our lives. It can bring us together and sometimes reflects who we are as a person. As a vector for well-being, music can be consumed without moderation!

Neuroscience researcher Jacob Jolij has even discovered which songs are the most uplifting using a mathematical equation. Why don’t you give one of them a listen:

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Traductrice et rédactrice avec des goûts très éclectiques en matière de musique et de cinéma. Lorsque je ne suis pas au travail, vous pouvez me retrouver en train de regarder “Lost in Translation” de Sofia Coppola pour la centième fois, ou d’écouter un disque de David Bowie, Kate Bush, Joy Division ou Daft Punk sur ma platine Rega Planar 1. Étant d’origine britannique, je suis également adepte de séries à l’humour absurde comme Monty Python’s Flying Circus et The Mighty Boosh !

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